Tesla's death-mask

This death mask of Nikola Tesla is on display at a museum in Belgrade, Serbia. Does anyone know if you can have a death mask cast if you're also an organ donor? Does cornea, etc, harvesting interfere with the mask-making? Because I'm an organ donor, but man, I'd love to leave behind one of these babies.

Check out Nikola Tesla's super creepy death mask (via JWZ)


  1. You have to die in pretty specific ways in order for them to actually harvest your organs. The odds greatly favor your getting to have a death mask made over being able to give your globes to someone in need.

    1. I agree with badcitizen, the best organ donors are brain dead people connected to machines in hospital. If you die in a car crash, it’s likely not much of you could be used for anything. If you die of old age, heart disease or cancer, ditto. You’ll most likely not give any of your organs to others. In a country of just over 4 million people (NZ) organs from only 43 deceased people were donated in 2009, and the year before that it was 31 people.

    2. I have a close friend who is an anesthesiologist pretty much on call 24×7. He doesn’t dare wander too far from home on sunny weekend days because that’s when his surgeon gets the “organ donors” – the guys tear-assing around on motorcycles without helmets.

      I also mentioned that I had read, I think in the Straight Dope, a hint of how they the harvest organs, pretty much by slicing the guy right down the middle. He said it’s not something you’d ever want to see.

      In spite of that, like with Cory, my driver’s license is an organ donor card. If I can help, have at it.

  2. OK, here’s a question — my stepmother recently bought a kidney in Florida, and with some research I found out that both Floridian and Californian hospitals hire ‘death counselors’ to convince relatives to authorise organ donation, which definitely helps to increase their number, I’m sure. But maybe they play fast and loose with some definitions, like ‘death’ or ‘consent’? Because seriously, the percentages are *insanely* different.

  3. I was just thinking last night how cool it would be to have a perfect replica model of your own scull to look at. Then you could stare your own dead self in the face. And see what you’ll look like after the maggots have their fill.

    Sheesh, maybe I should eat some ice cream or watch a comedy or something.

  4. Unless you’re planning to be a face transplant donor, it shouldn’t make any difference. The Romans were big on death masks and you can imagine the quality of corpse that they had to work with.

  5. Tesla had been going downhill, physically and mentally, for a decade or more before he died. It shows in that casting.

  6. Why wait til your dead? You can leave “life-mask” and know that it got done right.

  7. It should be pointed out that you can’t use regular plaster of paris for life-masks, due to the potential for chemical burn.

    “Dental Alginate” is the preferred life mask substance.

    1. Actually, the better alginate to use is prosthetic-grade (dental alginate doesn’t hold up as well in the larger volumes required for head or body casting).

      ***A safety note: NEVER use plaster of paris directly on skin, severe burns , or lacerations can result.

      To anyone interested- look at: http://www.fxsupply.com/life_casting/casting.html

      (I’ve made a few face casts; it’s a trip to look at a mask version of one’s self…)

  8. Corneal harvesting should leave the face in open casket condition (assuming it was to start with). The tissue removed is replaced with a plastic cover and the eyelids carefully sutured shut. While I haven’t stuck around long enough to watch after my bit of an organ harvesting procedure is over, I have it on good authority that they take pains to be neat about it.

  9. Cory, I know a guy in Singapore that can fetch top-dollar for your said corneas. Even better, we have a top-designer line of iris/pupil implants lined with precious stones that will far exceed the beauty of your existing eyes. Vision is rendered in 128-color, 8-bit clarity, which is more than enough to get through your daily routine (London is foggy, amirite?) Definitely no problem with death masks either.

  10. I’m with bat21. Do one now. I recommend shaving first and cover your hair well with a shaving cap or even a plastic grocery bag. Don’t get the plaster in your hair! Trust me. Use lot’s of vaseline on all exposed skin for lubrication. Stay reclined while the plaster dries. I made the mistake of sitting up wh8ile is was drying and the weight of the plaster pulled the skin on my face down in a weird way. The result looked I’d had a stroke or something.

  11. Being an “organ donor” does not necessarily mean just the big pieces inside. My dad donated both his corneas and a bunch of skin (presumably for burn victims.) Neither interfered with an open casket funeral and neither would have precluded the making of a death mask.

    As an aside since I’m on the subject, my mom matter-of-factly told me that we’d have to have a closed casket funeral since he was donating his corneas. It was a nice feeling to be able to tell her that he would still look perfectly natural afterwards.

  12. There’s a great collection of death-masks here, and it’s super fun to flip through. Lincoln looks exactly the way you expect him too, and John Calhoun looks like a total bad-ass (if you tease him about his ears, he’ll give you a knuckle-sandwich!). They’ve even got Newton there!

  13. Correct me if I’m wrong, but since Coy wears glasses, wouldn’t that make him a less-than-desirable cornea transplant donor?

  14. IIRC, corneas and skin can be donated hours post mortem, unlike organs that are terribly oxygen-dependent. Also, whether glasses matter depends on whether the vision correction is because the cornea is irregular or the eyeball diameter is too short or too wide.

    And, there’s a reason there is such a thing called a life mask… you don’t have to wait to get it done, as long as you don’t have any phobias about having your face covered for a half hour or so….

  15. This vaguely reminds me of a show I saw on how they make high end—well they’re not blow up dolls but high end replicas of famous strippers, centerfolds etc. They’re accurate right down to the um business end. Anyway you can actually get a full body cast while alive just in case you want to make a series every ten years or so leading up to the death mask.

  16. OK, Mr. Doctorow, let’s get one thing straight:

    When you put the words “Tesla,” “Death,” and “Mask” all in the same sentence, I am expecting a steampunk-style helmet that shoots lightning. Nothing else is sufficient!

    1. I’m forced to agree. Shame, Mr. Doctorow.

      In other news, when I was a feckless young art student, I spent a great deal of time elbow-deep in plaster of paris. Sure, it dries the almighty fuck out of your skin, but it never seemed as lethal as some of the commenters here would have it.

      That said, better safe than sorry. Alginate’s really cool stuff.

  17. Hey Cory, if you had your death mask 3d scanned and uploaded as an open source 3d printer template, we could ALL have a dead Cory Doctorow, ace SF writer and social commentator, head made of 3d printed plastic!!!

    I’d buy one.

    1. There should be a market for low-cost busts or heads of contemporary famous folk for fans to mount on pianos or mantelpieces (or car grilles for that matter! Who needs the feline “leaper” when you could have Dr Asimov grinning from the bonnet of your Jaguar?).

      I have a moss-covered Beethoven bust in my garden; it belonged to the former owner of the house who was a composer. But enough with the Beethovens and Napoleons! Somebody oughta market a line of heads for today’s discerning noggin-phile! Imagine a Nimoy done in chrome, or a hand-carved mahogany Clint Eastwood. I’d mount Sam Elliott over my front door, myself.

      Oh, that sounds wrong…

  18. My brother had occasion to be one of the zombies in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video back in the day. They made a life cast in order to build the zombie-makeup prostheses, and he of course hung onto the life cast afterward. It still hangs on the wall in his office. Luckily he’s aged well over the last 28 years, so it still resembles him perfectly.

    One of these days I’ll find an excuse to get one of me. I submit that there’s a little Ozymandias in each of us, just crying out for some sort of commemorative statuary.

  19. Hugo Gernsback, the publisher of electronics magazines who coined the phrase “science fiction,” commissioned a death mask of Tesla.

    We know this because Life magazine sent Alfred Eisenstadt to photograph Gernsback for a 1963 profile. Decades later, 136 of these photos wound up on Google.

    Here are Hugo and Nikola side by side.

    Here is an awesome photo of Hugo watching his Teleyeglasses while sitting next to Nikola.

    The article by Paul O’Neil, available online in the July 26, 1963 issue, says: “The death mask of Tesla which Gernsback commissioned and now keeps in his office is the sole monument raised to the electrical genius in the U.S.”

    (This lack has since been, you should excuse the expression, rectified: In 1976,
    a sculpture of Tesla by Croatian sculptor Frano Kršinić was erected on Goat Island at Niagrara Falls, New York, the location of the powerhouse where Tesla harnessed the Falls for electricity.)

    1. It’s not a full-fledged monument, but there’s also a historic marker sign for Tesla in the park behind the NYC main library, where in his later years he used to feed pigeons. I believe that they named the intersection the Nikola Tesla corner, as well.

    2. That looks an awful lot like Willem Dafoe.

      To reply to Donald Petersen: Isn’t there some law against the commercial use of a notable individual’s likeness?

  20. Having seen corneas harvested myself, during nursing school, I can tell you that it would not disturb your ability to have a death mask made — just like it doesn’t get in the way of an open casket wake. The harvester of eyes (thanks, BOC!) from the organ bank will bring hemispheres that are placed into the optical fossa after the corneas are removed; with these in place, and the eyelids closed overtop, it would be difficult for anyone without cadaver experience to tell that the curves weren’t natural.

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